Category Archives: image based research

Meet The Somalis ~ illustrated stories of Somalis in seven cities in Europe

You might have just seen Captain Phillips, the movie starring Tom Hanks as the real life Captain Phillips, commander of a Maerck shipping freighter hijacked by Somali pirates. The movie gives a wee glimpse into the life of Somali pirates, and the circumstances in their home country related to piracy. But, of course, to be Somali is something quite a bit larger.
Meet the Somalis tells the stories of 14 Somalis living the refugee or immigrant life in seven European cities. Based on interviews, “the illustrated stories focus on challenges faced by Somalis in their respective cities in Europe and issues raised in the Somalis in European Cities research, including education, housing, the media, employment, political participation, and identity. Meet the Somalis depicts experiences many of us will never know, like fleeing a warzone with your children or, worse, leaving your loved ones behind.”

Like most ethnographic research, the stories are not just windows to the experiences of others, but also mirrors reflecting our own values and the deep interconnections among all people, like the importance of family, well-being, and identity. The cartoon illustrations combined with interview excerpts build the narrative of experience as an immigrant and/or refugee connected to a war-torn homeland.

Humans of New York (HONY)

The Humans of New York (or HONY) is a photography project started by one person in 2010 and has developed into a blog with images and snippets of stories from New Yorkers. Brandon Stanton, the photographer and writer, describes the blog: “With nearly one million collective followers on Facebook and Tumblr, HONY now provides a worldwide audience with glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City.”

The front page evolves as photos and stories are added and looks like this. The blog is in the genre of street photography, with the addition of the stories. While Brandon wants to give us a glimpse of the lives of New Yorkers it is also possible that he is unwittingly creating an ethnographic data record that reveals much about the culture of, in this case, New York City, but perhaps more generally urban USA. The ability to digitally create, store and distribute data opens possibilities for a new kind of field work.

HONY has spawned a host of clones, especially on college and university campuses: Simon Fraser University, Humans of Houston, Detroit, Miami and Seattle, Humans of Brown University, Binghamton University, Lehman College, and Reed College. The purposes of the clones may vary but each creates a census of people in a given place, a data record of people within a cultural context.

Detroit ~ understanding urban development and decay through urban exploration (urbex)

Detroit has become a living laboratory for studying the creation and decline of urban industrial cities. The scale of deterioration in Detroit far exceeds that of other declining urban areas.

Detroit population:
1910 286,000
1950 1,850,000
2010 713,000

When the population of cities swell infrastructure develops to accommodate their needs, and as that population shrinks the infrastructure remains, leaving a ghostly reminder of these demographic changes. Houses, schools, churches, streets remain but are abandoned.
These abandoned spaces remain and as they deteriorate the land returns to what it was before the city developed. In downtown Detroit open fields have appeared amidst the remaining buildings… some of those spaces are being claimed as urban gardens.

One study that is chronicling the changes that Detroit continues to experience in this continuing story of urban change is Detroit Urbex. The intent is to “raise awareness of the social and economic challenges the city of Detroit faces through photography.” This is part of a movement called urban exploration or urbex, the exploration of man made structures, often involving exploration in places that are off-limits, and complete with suggestions for the kit for explorers (urban spelunking gear!).

Detroit Urbex’s photographic record is rich and deep, connecting the past and the present. Now and Then is a kaleidoscope of past and present images that are remarkably poignant. These images from Cass Tech High School, the most prestigious Detroit High School ~ now demolished, illustrate this technique.

Using aerial photographs

Aerial photography has been around for a long time ~ indeed there was a time living on the Canadian prairies where aerial photographers took pictures and then sold them to farmers, a sort of self-portrait of their homestead. My grandparents proudly displayed such a photograph in their living room and as a child I found it a fascinating perspective.

Google Maps provides an interesting resource for using the aerial perspective to examine constructs such as land use and housing patterns. For example, John Hill in this blog post looks at housing patterns, particularly suburban housing patterns that show an evolution from the sterile grids of suburbia characteristic of early suburban development, a pattern Thomas Jefferson laid down in the 18th century. His analysis of housing patterns illustrates an evolution that considers issues of density, community, and aesthetics based on the housing patterns (grids, fairway housing, fly-in homes, canal homes, cul-de-sacs, gated communities, tract mansions (what some folks call McMansions) and so on) we see in aerial photographs. This analysis clearly illustrates changes over time, concluding with suburban planning that reflects a contemporary interest in being ‘green,’ developments that encourage transit use, walkability, mixed-use spaces, and energy efficient construction.

See also Context and Perspective

Street Ethnography

Street ethnography is an emerging research approach that focuses on public exterior spaces… sidewalks, parks, neighbourhood spaces. Both the ethnographer and the ethnographic participants are moving through these public spaces and so are engaged with each other in informal ways as both use these spaces in a fairly equal way. The tools for street ethnographers include neighbourhood walks, going along with ethnographic participants, and photography.

A good illustration of street ethnography is, Urban Fieldnotes, a mash-up of research and street style blogging. Blogger Brent Luvaas, a visual and cultural anthropologist & Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Drexel University, describes Urban Fieldnotes this way…

Urban Fieldnotes is a street style blog documenting fashion, style, and dress on the streets of Philadelphia and beyond. It is also a blog about street style blogging, an experiment in auto-ethnographic research and open-source fieldwork that is part of an ongoing project entitled “Street Style 2.0: New Media and the New Politics of Fashion.”

His research project is connected to the rise of street style fashion blogging as a form of amateur ethnography that challenges prevailing modes of expertise in the fashion world. Just to make sure you know this is research, he also says…

Your comments and suggestions are welcome, but please note that any comments posted to this blog may be used in future presentations and publications, both print and digital, by Brent Luvaas.

Street style blogs are plentiful, but perhaps one of the mostly widely read is The Sartorialist, but Luvaas provides a long list of street style blogs from around the globe. Others he might have included are Advanced Style, which focuses specifically on ‘older folks’ and Bill Cunningham’s work for the NY Times. And there are an increasing number of models come street style bloggers, like Hanneli Mustaparta and Christine Reehorst.

There isn’t much written about street ethnography, although R. Weppner’s 1977 Street ethnography: Selected studies of crime and drug use in natural settings is a good resource, if you can get your hands on it.

Using film clips for teaching

The Sociological Cinema is a website of film clips that can be incorporated into teaching about a wide range of sociological topics. Videos are usually available on YouTube or some other site and might be clips from popular TV shows/movies, or made specifically as videos on a topic.

The site has a search function, and you can submit suggestions for videos, resources and assignments to be added to the site. Just a couple examples are:

Cultural jamming…

Norm breaching…

There isn’t a huge amount of content on the site yet, but it has a lot of potential.

Arts based research

Arts Based Studio’s Blog is a good resource for those interested in arts based research. The blog is described as: “an informal group of researchers who
generally hold to a sense that various forms of artistic expression can and does compel one’s attention in a way that tacitly suggests art, as a particular way of knowing things, engages our fuller consciousness.” There are notifications of events at the Arts Based Studio at the University of Alberta, as well as stories and links to other resources.

The Society Pages ~ social science that matters

The Society Pages is a portal to a number of blogs that highlight sociological investigations, of a traditional scholarly type and a more hip modern types as well. Sociological Images focuses on images that inform and create our understanding of the social world; Graphic Sociology is an analysis of graphs, tables and other visual presentations of data and will give you some cool ideas about data presentation; as well as Thick Culture and Cyborgology. Loads of cool stuff and inspiration for researchers.

Here is a post from Sociological Images that caught my eye… the I-75 Project.